Community Foundation of the South Okanagan expanding

Donation allows agency to reach out to some of the outlying communities in the South Okanagan

The Community Foundation of the South Okanagan is getting some major help responding to a challenge.

“We are expanding. We have a unique opportunity to take advantage of the generosity of an anonymous donor that wants to help us more effectively serve the entire region,” said Aaron McRann, executive director of the CFSO. “It’s a pretty incredible opportunity and it comes at a time when we are trying to figure out how to work on this national program called Smart and Caring Communities.”

A group of anonymous investors is putting up $100,000 in matching funds, to help the CFSO hire a worker to support their services throughout the area.

Last year, David Johnston, Canada’s Governor General, challenged the country’s 180 community foundations to join in what he called the Smart and Caring initiative, and ensure that every community in the country is served by a foundation by 2012, the 150th anniversary of Canada’s founding.

“We had no idea of what that meant at the time or if it was going to be taken seriously,” said McRann. “In our case, we already serve other communities, because we cover the regional district. But we really don’t serve those other communities adequately, in our opinion.”

McRann cited two problems with helping out in the communities scattered throughout the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen: money and distance.

“Most of our donors will request that we spend the money in the town that they live in. Not always, but that tends to be the case,” he said. “So it is a little bit more difficult for us to provide granting in the smaller communities because we don’t have funding in those communities.”

Then there is the factor of not being able to be on the scene in all the communities.

“I don’t have my finger on the pulse of what the needs are in those communities,” said McRann. “What it came down to, is we need to build our capacity. We needed to have the ability to spend more time in those communities and listen to what each community needs.”

Because the CFSO is able to support a wide variety of projects, what McRann calls 360-degree funding, he said they are in a unique position to support local efforts. So, they worked out that their response to the Smart and Caring initiative should be to spend more time in those communities, listen to what their citizens want and help them get it.

“Whether that is helping them organize a project or helping them fund a project, it will depend. Every community will probably have their own opinion of how we can help,” said McRann. “We don’t want to be prescriptive, we don’t have any idea what Cawston needs, compared to Osoyoos.”

That, said McRann, left them with a plan but no funding to implement. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place when the group of investors came into the picture.

“It all happened at the right time. We are in the position now where we have an exciting vision about providing better charitable and philanthropic support throughout the region and we will have the resources to do it,” said McRann. “Usually you have big visions and no money.”

McRann is careful about protecting the identity of the donor group, only describing them as a small group of people that believe in the need to build the non-profit sector and believe in the effect that community foundations can have.

“This group believes in the concept of community foundations and they believe in the process of non-profits building communities,” he said.